🎙 My Podcast ‘Knowing When to Quit’ is now live! Listen here
In March 2018 I was in the middle of an acting course and the familiar, uneasy feeling of wanting to quit moved into my body.
I’d just delivered my TEDx on Quitting, and so rather than beating myself up for once again wanting to leave a project, I got curious — what was happening here? WHY did I want to quit?
As I walked home from the tube that night two words came to me — ‘is it disinterest or discomfort?’
Disinterest would mean the topic wasn’t something I wanted to spend time on anymore. Simply moving on to new things, without too much heaviness.
But discomfort, that was sneakier — perhaps I REALLY wanted to do this course, but I’d hit a wall and was finding it hard…
These two words bounced off each other and I pretty much sprinted home, took pen to paper, and began to sketch out the model I’m sharing today.
Over the last 2.5 years this model has moved from being solely about quitting, to a more holistic temperature check for all our projects at any stage of the journey.
We naturally go through all the healthy states with any creative endeavour: if we expect the highs and lows, and use the model to regain balance, we are less likely to quit the projects we really care about. At the same time, noticing the warning signs early on for projects that no longer serve us stops us from blindly persevering, when our energy could be better used elsewhere.
This is a compassionate, self-led tool to help us understand ourselves better, get to know our quitting patterns, and ultimately help us spend more time focused on the stuff that matters.
THE AXIS — INTEREST vs DISCOMFORT
- With every activity or project in our life we experience a level of INTEREST and a level of DISCOMFORT, which can either be HIGH or LOW. Of course there is more nuance than that, but when forced to make a decision, it is usually more one than the other.
- HIGH and LOW states are both neutral — the important thing is how we feel about being there. We may presume that we should always seek out HIGH INTEREST activities (who would choose LOW INTEREST?) — but sometimes too many high interest activities can be exhausting,
- And LOW INTEREST doesn’t mean NO INTEREST. After all it can be calming to have things in our life where we care a little less. You can usually feel in your body whether there is a flutter of energy, or a more grounded equanimity.
- How we perceive DISCOMFORT is also subjective — HIGH DISCOMFORT could be something we seek out in the form of a new skill or challenge, or it might be an illness, or difficult boss that we would prefer not to have to endure. LOW DISCOMFORT can be really frustrating and uninspiring, or it can be a welcome breather from a busy time.
Embody: Go through the 4 terms and feel where they are in your body.
What does it feel like for you when something is…
…. high interest?
…. low interest?
Do you notice any positive or negative connotations you add to them?
The 4 Healthy States
- The combinations of INTEREST and DISCOMFORT create 4 HEALTHY STATES that we tend to go through with any creative project.
- HIGH INTEREST + LOW DISCOMFORT = FLOW. These are our creative, intuitive activities that feel effortless, joyful and nourishing. (For me this is playing the piano, connecting people and hiking in nature.)
- HIGH INTEREST + HIGH DISCOMFORT = GROWTH. We are here when we start a new venture, or a new job, learn a new language or move to a new city. It’s the exciting learning curve that gives us energy, but also challenges us. (For me this is starting my Quitting Podcast and writing my book.)
- LOW INTEREST + HIGH DISCOMFORT = GRIT. These are things we don’t really want to do, and find hard, but know we need to do to progress: Having difficult conversations, finishing a proposal, running the last leg of a marathon, asking for help. (For me this is getting out for a run!)
- Finally, LOW INTEREST + LOW DISCOMFORT = RESTORE. These are our maintenance activities that keep us sane. They don’t interest us that much, but they also don’t take much energy. They are the tasks we often fall back on when we’re tired. Or, they are a break from activity altogether. (For me these are things like walking around the block, washing up, cooking a simple meal, basic admin.)
- To live a balanced and fulfilled life, we need to have a good distribution across these healthy states across the different activities in our life. We don’t have to have all of them all the time, but we need regularly moving around the model so that we don’t get stuck for too long eg. with no RESTORE.
Inquiry: We all have biases too, of which healthy states are good and bad.
Ask yourself —
Which state(s) do you think you should be in?
Which do you avoid?
Which do you judge yourself for being in?
Which do you think you spend most of your time in?
The 4 Unhealthy States
- However, when we spend too long in one state, or overload ourselves by having two many projects in one part of the model, we move into the unhealthy expressions of these states.
- Too much FLOW — if we spend too long doing things we enjoy but that don’t challenge us, we reach PLATEAU (eg. playing the same piece of music over and over again and never trying anything harder will become monotonous.)
- Too much GROWTH — if everything we do really interests us but is also at our edge and out of our comfort zone, we reach BURN OUT. (This is really common in start-up culture, or the public sector where people are working hard for a cause they care about.)
- Too much GRIT — it’s great to push ourselves, but if everything we do is hard and not enjoyable we are going to start to RESENT it.
- Too much RESTORE— and if we continue to do tasks that maintain us but don’t excite or stretch us, or if we take a break for too long, we move into APATHY.
- It’s in these outer states of PLATEAU, BURN OUT, RESENTMENT or APATHY that we are most likely to quit.
REFLECTION: Look back over times where you have quit — do your reasons fit into one of those 4 categories?
- When we find ourselves in an unhealthy state we naturally want to regain balance. This can happen intentionally or re-actively (eg. we either can notice that there is this need and adapt our behaviour, or our body/behaviour will start to adapt for us — often in unproductive ways).
- The way to regain balance is to find the healthy state diagonally opposite the unhealthy state you’re in and bring some of that into your life. This can either be directly in the project you’re wanting to quit, or somewhere else in your life, so that overall your life feels more balanced.
- Eg. If I’m in Resentment at work, I might try to find more Flow at work, or take on a new hobby outside of work that brings me joy and helps everything feel a little bit easier. Interestingly we don’t always have to take something away to lighten the load… Adding something on but that brings balance may be the answer.)
What’s diagonally opposite?
- When we’re in BURN OUT — we need to bring some more RESTORE into our life.
For example if our start up has completely taken over, we might need to make time to do some really boring every day things — go for short walks, cook mindfully, sit on the sofa. Noticing that we’re in BURN OUT early enough means we can make changes to re-balance, but if we don’t notice then we might go into an enforced RESTORE, where we have no choice but to stop and deal with very mundane parts of our every day existence.
- RESENTMENT is re-balanced by reconnecting to FLOW.
This means we need to learn to laugh at ourselves or remember the joy we felt when we started the project — whatever it takes to feel a little lighter. If this is not possible in the situation that’s affecting us, then we need to find this elsewhere — spend time with friends who makes us shriek with laughter, dance around the living room to 90s cheese, get on a bike and cycle into the sunset (or whatever your light relief is). Flow is whatever activity we do that can raise our vibrations and make us smile.
- APATHY is re-balanced by finding our next big GROWTH opportunity.
For example, starting a new project that really excites us or taking a skill to the next level. However, we need to be careful not to overshoot the mark, sign up for a million new courses and bypass GROWTH straight into BURN OUT…
- Finally, when we’re in PLATEAU we need to embrace GRIT.
We’ve got to do that thing we don’t want to do but we know is good for us. In Plateau with your love life? Go on a date. In Plateau with your fitness? Go for a run. It’s the thing that keeps coming back to haunt you and you just need to break through it.
How to use the model
- Check in with one project.
Think of a project you’re currently working on. Is it High or Low Interest (roughly)? Is it High or Low Discomfort? Within that Quadrant is it more Healthy or Unhealthy? Mark it on the model.
Acknowledging where it is is the first step, and often can bring in a lot of relief just to name it.
How do you feel about being there? If you’re happy, that’s great!
If you don’t want to be there, or you feel like you’re on the edge of moving into an unhealthy state (eg. you’re in Growth but it feels like it’s almost Burn Out), then use the re-balancing technique to bring in another energy for a bit.
Remember — if you need more…
…GRIT — do the thing you don’t want to do, but know you need to
…GROWTH — take on the next challenge that excites you
…RESTORE — go and do some really mundane, easy things for the day and take the pressure off
…FLOW — go and have some fun or throw yourself into something that feels effortless — bring the energy up!
2. Check in with your whole life
Write down 5–10 things that currently are taking up time or energy in your life and plot them onto the QQ.
Look at the model — do you have a good balance across your life? Or is one area overcrowded?
If it’s overcrowded, consider which of the projects or commitments be moved into another part of the QQ, using the re-balancing tool. Or, can you take any of them off the model completely?
3. Knowing When to Quit
- Do what you can to make changes and tweaks to re-balance
- See if it makes a difference.
- if you still want to quit, adjust again
- If you constantly find yourself coming back to the same place and you really don’t think any adjustment is going to help, and it sucks and you’re miserable, then give yourself permission to Quit.
For more information please visit www.quittingquadrant.com
My Podcast ‘Knowing When to Quit’ is now live! Listen here
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